Our education programs include technical assistance to property owners, heritage education around the Civil War Sequicentennial and the Bi-Centennial of the War of 1812, and our ongoing Race and Place in Baltimore Neighborhoods project.
Over the past few months, we have been working on a new class for people interested in historic preservation who want to learn how to tell the stories behind local buildings and neighborhoods. We’re calling the class Explore Baltimore Heritage 101 and we are excited to announce the four-week schedule for June and July:
Research: Tuesday, June 21, 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Writing: Tuesday, June 28, 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Visuals: Tuesday, July 5, 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Outreach: Tuesday, July 12, 7:00pm – 9:00pm
The first three sessions will meet at the Baltimore Free School classroom at 30 W. North Avenue. The final session on outreach will be held in the basement gallery at AIA Baltimore at 11 1/2 W. Chase Street. The class is free of charge and we will provide light refreshments at each session.
Each session is two hours long—enough time for a quick presentation about the topic of the week, discussion and questions, and hands-on projects and activities where participants will practice writing compelling stories, building interactive timelines, and making tour maps. Between each class, we plan to share readings, videos and activities online so you can expect to spend another hour each week to prepare for the next week’s session. The class is led by me—Eli Pousson—and builds on our experience over the past three years of working with contributors for our Explore Baltimore Heritage website and app.
If you want to join the class, please sign up online ASAP; space is limited. We are asking everyone who is interested to plan to attend all four sessions. We know this is a big commitment but we promise to make it worth your time. We have limited space so please register soon.
You do not need any previous education or experience with research or historical writing to join the class. If you are interested in Baltimore’s historic buildings and neighborhoods, that is a fine place to start. We do expect you to be comfortable using a web browser (we’ll be using Google Docs, Trello and other free online tools). You should also be comfortable sharing your writing in public.
We have designed this class to teach you how effective communication about historic places can help you to promote preservation and revitalization projects. By participating in this class, you’ll also be helping us learn how to teach these skills to other people across the country. Explore Baltimore Heritage 101 is a pilot for our Local Preservation School project—a new experiment in online education funded by the National Park Service. We also welcome your questions and suggestions—please share your comments below or get in touch.
In January 2016, Baltimore Heritage is offering a free course—Explore Baltimore Heritage 101—designed to teach local residents how to research, write and share the stories of historic places in their communities. The course is going to cover four main themes:
Research: How to use digital sources to learn about local history and architecture
Writing: How to write about historic places for local audiences
Visuals: How to combine writing with maps, photos, and graphics
Outreach: How to reach local audiences with online engagement and public programs
Our goal is not to make you an “expert” on Baltimore history. Instead, we want to help you become a better researcher, writer, historian and teacher. Explore Baltimore Heritage 101 is an opportunity to connect with friends and neighbors who share an interest in the stories of Baltimore’s historic buildings and neighborhoods.
Please sign up to hear more about Explore Baltimore Heritage 101—we expect to publish the course schedule and open registration soon!
Over the course of five class sessions, we plan to guide a group of students through the process of sharing a story about a historic place including the opportunity to publish a story on our Explore Baltimore Heritage website and app, we recently hired ranking hostingów as our web hosting agency.
We know you and your community have stories to share. Important stories are found everywhere around us—in parks, public art, rowhouses and schools. And good stories about places are really about people. Historian Eric Sandweiss explained it neatly:
“[the history of a city street] means little if it’s not tied to the story of the farmer who sold the land, the developer who bought it from him, the families who campaigned to have it paved, the men who laid the asphalt, or the children who rode their bikes on it.”
By empowering you to connect stories from the past with places found in your neighborhood today, we know we are helping you to build a stronger future for Baltimore. Supporting local residents like you is our central goal for the Local Preservation School—our new experiment in online education funded by the National Park Service. This winter class is our first step in creating free open online educational resources that people across the United States can use to get more involved with saving historic places in their own communities.
Over the last several years, we have all watched aghast at the images of ancient statuary, irreplaceable temples, and priceless historic artifacts are that damaged and destroyed by violence and theft in conflict zones around the world. Just today, we read about the terrible news that the Islamic State has blown up the Triumph Arch in the Syrian city of Palmyra, an iconic 2,000 year-old landmark within a UNESCO world heritage site.
I know I’m not alone in feeling almost helpless to stop this heart-breaking destruction in places half-way around the world. I also know I’m not alone in wondering what people around the world are doing to prevent these losses. While the challenge is immense, the good news is that there are indeed people and groups working hard to protect our global heritage in war zones. We are pleased to bring a leader in this field to speak to our community in Baltimore: Corine Wegener from the Smithsonian Institution.
Ms. Wegener is a founder of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting cultural property worldwide during armed conflict, and helped lead efforts to recover artifacts for the National Museum of Iraq after looting there. She works throughout the world helping museums protect against looting, strengthening international laws to safeguard antiquities, and engaging front-line soldiers on the importance of shared culture.
We hope you can join us for a talk by Ms. Wegener on October 21 with a wine and cheese reception following. Our host is the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, a historic treasure of its own. Built in 1818 and designed by noted architect Maximilian Godefroy (who also designed Baltimore’s Battle Monument on Calvert Street), the church is the oldest Unitarian building still being used in the country. Please get in touch with any questions and come out to learn more about this important international preservation issue.
A few weeks into my work with the Battle of Baltimore project, I’ve selected around fifteen sites that I plan to research and write short stories about. I started with a list of over 200 sites compiled from early 19th century accounts of Baltimore such as Poppleton’s Plan of the City of Baltimore and Kearney’s Map of Baltimore’s Defenses. While some of these places are still familiar to 21st century Baltimoreans (Lexington Market, the Battle Monument), others are mostly forgotten (Harrison’s Marsh, Sugar House, Tobacco Inspection Warehouse).
To gauge which sites would be most fruitful for this project, I tried to get a general sense of the story behind each site before diving too deep into research. For example, I wanted to include a school to discuss the state of education in the early 19th century. The master list included seven such institutions: Male Public School No. 1, Public School No. 3, McKim’s Free School, the Baltimore Free School, the Female Free School, the Methodist Free School, and the Oliver Hibernian Free School. I spent a few minutes on Google to determine which might have the most compelling 1814 story to tell.
While the Oliver Hibernian Free School sounded fascinating, I found out it wasn’t established until 1824—and thus, may not be the best fit for this project. This preliminary search is not always straightforward, as there are variations on many place names. In the education example, there is a contemporary organization called the “Baltimore Free School,” which further complicates matters.
Once I focused in on a site, I turned to the wealth of primary resources now available online to understand how a building or institution was described around the Battle of Baltimore. I’ve found that it’s easiest to scour these sources for information about multiple sites rather than to focus only on one site at a time. City registers, including the 1814-1815 and 1816 City Registers, were invaluable in this step. The main function of the register was to provide a directory of Baltimore’s residents and businesses. A simple list of names, professions, and addresses offers many insights into early 19th century Baltimore.
For example, when researching Mary Pickersgill’s Jonestown house (now known as the Flag House), city registers provided information about the flagmaker’s neighbors and therefore, clues about her social and economic status. The 1814 directory showed that her Albemarle Street neighbors included the first clerk of the Bank of Maryland, a sea captain, a lumber merchant, an attorney, a merchant, and a physician—as well as craftsmen such as a cooper, a sailmaker, a weaver, a carver, and a distiller.
Registers also include information about street names, elected officials, and, of course, advertisements. I’ve particularly enjoyed reading some of the positions appointed by the Mayor and City Council. These appointments include the inspector of butter, lard, and flaxseed; inspectors and gaugers of liquors, molasses, and oil; weigher of hay for the Lexington Hay Scale; keepers of the city springs; superintendent of the powder magazine—clearly an important task in September of 1814! I’ve also rediscovered the joy of reading historic advertisements. An ad for J.C. Petherbridge, “Dentist and Bleeder,” reminds me just how far medicine has come in the past two centuries: Mr. Petherbridge offered his services in Old Town “where cupping or bleeding with leeches is required.” While Mr. Petherbridge likely won’t be making an appearance in the Battle of Baltimore site, his advertisement has helped me get a better sense of everyday life in Baltimore at this time.
Read on for the second post in a new series from local preservationist Auni Gelles as she works on our new Battle of Baltimore website and soon-to-be-launched app. Auni interviewed Amanda Shores Davis, the Executive Director of the Flag House, about this museum’s unique and little-known collections.
If you have an interest in the Battle of Baltimore, you’ve no doubt visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House on Pratt Street. (And if you haven’t, now is a great time to check it out!) The 1793 brick house became the home and business of flagmaker Mary Pickersgill in 1806, seven years before she was commissioned to sew the enormous flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. The house’s proximity to the busy harbor helped to make her business creating ships’ colors and signal flags quite stable. Mary stitched the soon-to-be-famous Star Spangled Banner and a smaller storm flag in seven weeks over the summer of 1813 with the help of her mother (and fellow flagmaker) Rebecca Young, daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and Grace Wisher, an African American indentured servant.
The city of Baltimore purchased the house in 1927 and it has served as a museum for the past 88 years. A new permanent exhibit at the Flag House entitled “Family of Flagmakers: The Women Who Created the Star-Spangled Banner” explores the lives of these women.
In addition to the historic house, a contemporary museum building, and landscaped grounds, the Flag House is home to a collection of archival materials related to the Battle of Baltimore and the Star-Spangled Banner. Amanda Shores Davis, the Executive Director of the Flag House, took some time to answer my questions about this little-known but valuable collection.
Auni: Some Baltimoreans may be aware of the historic house and museum building but not the collections at the Star-Spangled Flag House. What types of materials are held here? How large is the collection?
Amanda: The Flag House holds a collection of 19th century decorative arts (the majority are from the early part of the century, 1800-1820), memorabilia from celebrations in recognition of the Star-Spangled Banner, Old Defenders, and Baltimore anniversaries, and War of 1812 military items. There are also small holdings of primary source documents (city directories, letters, periodicals) and WWI and WWII posters. We have roughly 1,000 items in the collection. This does not include the archaeological materials found in 1996 and 1998.
Auni: How did these objects/documents end up at the Flag House? Were they donated by descendants, purchased/donated by individuals, or acquired by the city?
Amanda: Collections items have come to the Flag House in a variety of ways. The one of the first administrators, the Ruth Bibbins, who purchased or collected many of the furnishings for the house. Some items have been gifted over the years and some items have come to us as permanent loans from institutions that are no longer operational. Very few items have been donated by descendants of Mary Pickersgill. Her daughter Caroline Pickersgill Purdy was childless so few things have come to us by the descendents of Mary’s sister Hannah.
Auni: Is the collection accessible to researchers?
Amanda: We are currently undergoing reorganization of the collection, cataloging, and status reports so for now the collection is not open to researchers—although that is the end goal, and to add our online catalog to the website.
Auni: What artifact or document is most surprising, in your opinion?
Amanda: The most surprising item in the collection is the receipt for the Star-Spangled Banner for the fact that it even exists. There is little to no documentation of the flag making business aside from advertisements in city directories. We have two key documents that sort of create bookends to Mary’s career as a flag maker: the first is the [flag] receipt from 1813, six years after the establishment of the business in 1807 and obviously her most famous commission. The second is an 1815 receipt for what we consider to be one of the last flags made by Mary. The receipt is for an American ensign 15 x 24.5 feet, for $120, commissioned in February 1815. It dates to the period in which Mary stops making flags before the marriage of her daughter, Caroline, to iron merchant, John Purdy.
Auni: Are there any objects/documents related to Grace Wisher in the collection?
Amanda: There are no objects related to Grace Wisher, the only evidence I believe anyone has been able to locate about Grace is her indenture contract, which is not part of our collection.
Auni: I know there was some archaeological work conducted at the Flag House a number of years ago. What were some of the most interesting finds of those digs?
Amanda: This is probably my favorite part of the collection. There is one box of objects from the dig under the kitchen floor conducted in 1996. Everything from beer bottles to a lady’s hair comb. The 1998 dig conducted by the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology uncovered over 15,000 unique items. The majority of the items were preserved and mostly intact due to the use of the privy and beehive oven being used as trash disposal areas. I specifically included a case in our new exhibit to showcase some of these items to tell the history of the house itself and because there was so much cool stuff!
For me as a decorative arts historian some of the best items are intact utilitarian objects like yellow ware bowls and a decorative candy dish because they were so well-preserved and are great educational tools to talk about material culture and life in the 19th century. A close second would be the remnants of a thimble and pair of scissors that the archeologist located in the old foundation of the oven and date to the period when Mary lived in the house. If you asked kids who visit what the coolest item is, they might say the blue glass doll eyes.
Auni: Thank you, Amanda, for taking time to share the collection with us!